“Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
I’m sick and tired of remaining victim to pains of the past. I’ve carried far too much baggage for too long. Freeing myself from unskilled or hurtful experiences of others has become a priority in my life.
It’s as though the painful events are happening in real-time when those memories surface, and I can feel my body tense, my heart and mind race, each and every time. I’ve grown sick of these old stories, and tired of paying the price for other people’s mistakes and bad behaviour I’ve held myself victim and prisoner to. What to do?
I’ve had to make forgiveness a priority, because I am done with holding myself victim to ghosts from the past.
We’ve all been hurt in big and small ways by others, either intentionally or unintentionally. There’s no denying, horrible things happen in life. This article in no way denies the scarring and damage life’s atrocities, big and small, have created for people. It’s about ending our own suffering.
I believe hurt people hurt people. This doesn’t excuse them, but we don’t have to perpetuate the suffering in our own lives.
The bigger question is, how can we stop our own suffering and paying the price for the actions, or inactions, of another? How do we free ourselves?
Consciously engaging in forgiveness practices has offered me freedom and helped me to reduce my suffering. The place to begin is to get clear about what forgiveness is, and what it isn’t:
• Forgiveness is not saying what happened is OK.
• Forgiveness is not saying we must ever seek out or reconcile with the person who has harmed us. Others don’t even need to know about it. It’s an internal process.
• Forgiveness isn’t “forgive and forget,” it’s letting go of our own pain. Forgiveness liberates us from the shadow of another’s mistake and we take our power back.
If we had to wait until someone apologized or felt sorry for us to forgive, we might be waiting a long time. Sometimes, they aren’t sorry, they don’t even know the pain they’ve cause, or they’re dead. Waiting for another to feel sorry would only keep us trapped and locked into our own pain.
Forgiveness is a process. it’s not an event, and it can take time. It’s often done in layers. We don’t over-ride or deny our own hurt and pretend we’re all happy-happy-joy-joy.
Bottling hurt feelings up doesn’t work, and puts added stress on our minds and bodies. This can make us sick. Bottled up emotions often spill over into our lives in other ways. We can shut ourselves off from support, or avoid any situation or person who even smells like the one that hurt us. In this, we lose out on life.
It’s important to acknowledge and feel emotions, and to pause to ask ourselves what we need. We may need to share and feel heard and supported. Writing about it, sharing with a caring friend or counsellor may be helpful. It is helpful to name the feelings that arise.
Naming the emotions helps to turn the volume down on the emotional centre of the brain and invite the rational part of the brain into action, according to a study conducted at UCLA.
We can gain perspective and realize we’re not alone. Many people are experiencing similar feelings. When working with forgiveness, it’s best to start with smaller hurts, not the big things.
Many of us use a critical voice with ourselves. But when we’re hurt, it’s important to be kind with ourselves. Imagining we are our own best-friend is helpful. What would we tell someone we really loved who’s hurting? How would we be with them? Be nice to the right person; yourself.
As best we can, stop having conversations with the offender within our own mind. When we’ve been hurt, there’s often a tendency to go over-and-over what was said or done in our own minds, and rehearse what we’d love to say.
This sometimes happens to me in the wee-small-hours, just when I am supposed to be sleeping. Each time I do this to myself, I can feel a shot of stress chemicals in my body, I’m wide awake, mind-racing, and I suffer.
The adage of “holding a grudge is like letting someone live rent-free in our head” applies here. I often consider how much air-time I give to people who’ve hurt me, and I suffer. They’ve likely not given it a second thought. How much power do I want to give others in my life?
I used to be the “great pretender,” and try to fake it through. Now, I take the time I need with myself until I can gain some clarity about what happened. Deep, slow, belly-breaths are helpful.
I’ve found power and liberation in pausing, taking a few deep breaths, and turning toward my hurt feelings with self-compassion. I name what I’m feeling, and don’t pretend nothing happened. Sometimes, I just silently whisper “ouch” to myself.
Deepening our understanding about what forgiveness is and isn’t is just a starting point. Getting clear forgiveness is about ending my own suffering, and not about the other, was helpful for me.
We can free ourselves from ghosts of the past. It’s liberating.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.